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The police protect the state

This article is over 13 years, 2 months old
The investigation into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes shines a spotlight on the police and anti-terror laws, writes Simon Basketter
Issue 2125

According to “C12”, one of the police officers who killed Jean Charles de Menezes in Stockwell on 22 July 2005, “Everything I have ever trained for – threat assessment, seeing threats, perceiving threats and acting on threats – proved wrong.”

He believes this, and his evidence to the ongoing inquest into the killing of the innocent Brazilian electrician is accurate.

But he is mistaken. Everything that has emerged so far in the evidence shows not a failure of the system but a success.

In the days following Jean Charles’ death the media and political establishment told a story of a regrettable but unavoidable incident.

But gone now are the lies about Jean Charles jumping over barriers and running into a tube station, although occasional references to how much Jean Charles looked like the failed suicide bomber Hussain Osman and talk of bulky coats remain.

The official tale is still one of “confusion” and “chaos”. Police were in a difficult, if not impossible, situation – doing their brave best to prevent a terrorist outrage in London.

They say the surveillance was as good as it could be. The officers were well trained – the decision to kill Jean Charles was difficult but taken responsibly.

Chief Inspector Esposito, a “tactical advisor” said the only problem was with misidentification. He said, “It’s a tragedy sir, but for me it’s as simple as that.”

But the underlying reality remains that an unarmed, innocent man was held down by one police officer while two others shot him repeatedly in the head.

There are of course the mild discrepancies in the accounts, of who did what when.

It has emerged that two officers changed evidence in the case.

The Special Branch officer, code-named Owen, removed a line from his notes claiming Deputy Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick said that the Brazilian could “run onto Tube as not carrying anything”.

Another officer, “Laurence”, admitted changing his log to show he did not identify Jean Charles de Menezes as a failed suicide bomber.

He told the court he had made a mistake but had not intended any cover-up.

But it is appropriate that one of the officers who fired the shots tells us something more insightful.

C12 told the jury he was in “immeasurable danger” in the run-up to the shooting. He said he was prepared to tackle terrorists intent on “mass murder”.

He said Jean Charles’ behavior had been “in keeping with a man acting suspiciously, with being a potential suicide bomber”. This was that Jean Charles “appeared agitated” – with good reason it turned out.

It is argued that tense situations produce regrettable consequences.

But to view the death of Jean Charles this way is to is to concede that there is something fundamentally right with the police and the justice system.

The problem for our rulers in admitting to “miscarriages of justice” – whether that is people wrongly convicted or those who die at the hands of the police – is that it shines a light on the real nature of the state.

The institutional racism of the state helps us to understand this, but it is worth noting that you don’t have to be black, Muslim or even Irish to have a massive wrong inflicted on you by the state.

The institutions of the state are there to protect the running of the system.

On a day to day basis, the state protects the banks and the bailiffs but not those evicted from their homes.

It protects the supermarkets, but not those desperate enough to try and steal the security tagged joints of meat.

But more fundamentally, the state wants a monopoly on arms. Only the state is allowed to have guns.

On the day of Jean Charles’ death, members of an army regiment implicated in shoot to kill policies and covert operations in Northern Ireland and Iraq were on secondment to the Metropolitan police.

The only people with the capacity to kill in Stockwell Tube were the police and the members of British military intelligence roaming around South London.

The state can bomb and invade abroad and, as the last resort for exercising its power, it needs the same force at home.

So there is a bloody line that runs through the carnage of imperial adventures in the Middle East to the carriage of a tube train in South London.

If push comes to shove, the British state has a shoot to kill policy to defend the system. This is not a ‘mistake’, nor is it defensible.

There is no lack of professionalism in the officers who shot Jean Charles. They did what they were meant to do – execute to protect the state. The problem is that they are meant to do it at all.

As the inquest continues we will learn much more about how Jean Charles lost his life.

But the question we must ask is, what does it reveal about the role of the police and the state that they so ruthlessly protect?

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